I am a college professor.
Every term, I expect everyone’s best effort: regular attendance, diligent note-taking efforts, and assignments turned in by the deadline. And every term, students slack off. By the midterm my attendance sheets are riddled with blank spots, and every week I get a new email or twenty explaining why this essay or that one is missing, late, or incomplete.
Most of the time when this happens, I sigh. I give a C or a D or an F where necessary and shrug it off. Students not doing what they ought to be doing is as much a part of my semester as red ink and lectures on bad metaphors. But when I sometimes find out that these slacker students are Christians?
I cringe because as Christians, we are obligated to do the best we can, whether at work or at school or at home. We are to work at “whatever we do” as “working for the Lord, not for human masters,” and to keep in mind that it is “the Lord Christ we are serving” with our efforts (Colossians 3:23-24). We are furthermore commanded to “in everything…set an example by doing what is good” so that “those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us” (Titus 2:8).
God obviously doesn’t expect that every Christian will be a CEO or a straight-A student or first chair violin in the orchestra. But he does expect wholehearted effort, exemplary behavior, and diligent work: the fundamental elements, in other words, of a good student, a good worker, a good citizen. The work that is given to us to do – whether that is pursuing a degree, taking AP history, or writing a presentation at work – is not just a means of livelihood or accomplishment, but is itself an act of service. Your identity as a student or an employee doesn’t come second to ministry; it is the ministry.
Because our God is nothing if not practical. Where do we come into contact with the most people? Work and school. Where are non-believers apt to observe our behavior during times of stress and times of calm? Work and school. Where are people watching us to see whether we will falter? Work and school. I wonder sometimes what must non-believing professors think of their Christian students who don’t bother to turn in assignments, or who shrug off the work they’re asked to do. Do they think their Christian students don’t care? Do they have a hard time imagining that Christianity makes any useful difference in their lives or manner? What kind of an impact would a caring, thoughtful Christian student or employee make in the classroom, or in the workforce?
As believers, we’re commanded to be different from the world: set apart, holy, sanctified. And there are a million ways to show that, but one of them is to do your best. Always. You’ll stand out by mere virtue of the fact that not many others do. If you put your best effort into tasks set before you, even those that seem mundane, boring, or useless, people will notice. And even if they don’t, God notices. Such effort is a sacrifice made to Him; He is aware of it, and honors it.
When I was little, and even now, my mother’s simple creed was and is this: “Do your best.” She didn’t ask for As. And in a way, that was wonderfully freeing. My mom didn’t demand first-place awards or perfection; she just wanted my best, and if I gave my best, then that was good enough. Additionally, “doing my best” as often as I could earned me respect and trust from the people around me, believers and non-believers both. I find it’s much easier to reach out to people, to build relationships with them, if that trust is there, if in your daily life you conduct yourself as someone who is mindful of what you are doing, who has integrity, who puts effort forth.
And God asks the same of us as well. Do your best! Give your all to whatever it is that you’re doing. If no one else notices, then God will, and that’s enough – but you’ll be surprised at how many door your effort opens, and how much others’ perception of you will change.